Patron of Reading


This is my special Patron of Reading page for everyone at Cordwalles Junior School. I’m delighted to be your new Patron of Reading. I am really looking forward to getting to know you over the coming months and to finding out about what sort of books you enjoy reading. I hope I might also be able to make some recommendations too!

Design a book cover competition results

I was thrilled to receive so many entries for my special Patron of Reading, ‘Design a book cover’ competition, launched on my spring term visit to Cordwalles.  The quality of the entries was very high and it was a really tough job making a final decision about the winners and runners-up.

In the end, I chose a pair of joint overall winners: Maisie Bampini (Willow Class) for her beautifully drawn and colourful alternative cover for The Buried Crown and Nischal Gurung (Chestnut Class) for her eye-catching and original design for Black Powder.

Winning comp entries

Maisie’s design for The Buried Crown and Nischal’s design for Black Powder – Photo by Paul Stead Photography

Maisie and Nischal’s prizes were VIP guest invitations for them and a parent or guardian to attend my book launch party for The Buried Crown during the Easter holidays at the Museum of Farnham. They also received a signed copy of the book each. While at the event, they got the chance to meet my publisher from Chicken House Books, Barry Cunningham, ‘the man who discovered JK Rowling’, my lovely editor, Kesia Lupo, and my dad, the inspiration for my hero, George Penny, in the story, who came dressed as the Anglo-Saxon king who features in the book.

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Runners-up in the competition were Carlota Lucas, Molly and Nathan Hancock, who each received a signed copy of The Buried Crown and a special bookmark.

Well done to everyone who entered the competition. Your work was on display on the night and caught the attention of professional book illustrator and guest, Martin Impey, among others, as one of the photos shows in the slideshow above. What a talented bunch of artists you all are!

World Book Day Visit – March 2018

We didn’t let a bit of snow stop us from having some fun World Book Day-style when I paid a rearranged visit to Cordwalles on 8 March. The school hall was packed out for morning assembly with children dressed as assortment of colourful book characters.

Spotted in the crowd were a host of Harry Potters, a bunch of Gangsta Grannies, and a selection of fairy tale characters plus other classic favourites including Paddington Bear, Matilda and Mary Poppins. There was even a Tom Garnett from my own story, Black Powder! 


Peter Pan and friends

Ally with Owen dressed as Tom

Ally with Tom Garnett from ‘Black Powder’ (aka Owen who is also a Cordwalles Book Buddy)

The teachers got into the spirit too. Miss Leah – who led the assembly – came as Mango with her pet tapir, BamBang from Polly Faber’s series of books of the same name, while other members of staff were disguised as characters from Dr. Seuss, James Bond, Tintin and Beetle Boy.

At the end of the assembly, I launched a special ‘Design a book cover’ competition with the chance to win a VIP place at the book launch for my new book, The Buried Crown, plus some signed author copies. Then it was off to meet pupils in Year 5 for some fun workshops on creating ‘paper-plate’ heroes and villains.

Children working on plate portraits

Character creators: children hard at work on drawing and writing about their favourite heroes and villains during the ‘paper-plate’ portrait workshops

The children all did a brilliant job of describing their favourite heroes or villains and then drawing some amazing pictures to go with their descriptions. Here’s just a small selection of their work:

At lunchtime, while some of the children were enjoying a game of Quidditch in the playground, I took a sneak-peak inside Mr Budd, the Cordwalles School Caretaker’s magical ‘Cupboard under the stairs’ (or office) just as a special delivery was arriving from Hogwarts!

Then, at the end of the day, everyone got back together to take a look at each other’s work and to take a peek inside the AMAZING ‘Book in a Box’ entries at the World Book Day Marketplace.

As these pictures below show, the entries were all so creative, I had such a difficult job in judging them …

In the end, I managed to make a decision and picked my runners-up and overall winner – all of whom won some World Book Day book tokens to spend on books of their choice.

Book in a Box Kensuke's Kingdom Winner

Book in a Box competition: The overall winner from the Michael Morpurgo story, ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’

Prizewinners with Ally1

Book in a Box competition winners with Ally

What a fantastic day! Thank you so much to everyone for all your hard work, creativity and your very warm welcome. And Happy Reading!

Book Champions – part 3 – Willow Class

And here’s my selection of story beginnings from pupils in Willow Class …

Book Champions Writing comp Nov 17 Willow ClassThis William Laker

“You should know something about him. William loved dragons. Actually he didn’t just love them, he wanted to be one. He had dragon socks, pants, clothes, bedding, cups – everything that had dragons on, he had it. The thing he always says is that you can never have too many dragon things!

William lived in a small house on the edge of the busy city. He lived with his dad because his mum died when he was young so he doesn’t remember what she looked like.”

By Hadley

Ally’s comment: I loved the way Hadley got you to meet the main character – William Laker – right away in this story. He’s even there in the title! And the fact that he loves dragons and even wants to be one, really pulled me in and made me want to find out more! I hope you finish William’s story, Hadley. If you do, I’d love to read it!

“The car stops for about the millioneth time and more and more people stroll along the cold shady path crashing into one another as they continue their journey. Bored, I check my phone for tips on football, desperate for something to help me win the match. I glance out the window.

What’s that? I think to myself. I take some pictures. I look back. Was that a gun?

By Ethan

Ally’s comment: Wow! We start off, with Ethan’s hero, taking a boring car journey and searching his phone for tips about football, but within a few short lines – and a quick photo taken out of the car window – we’re suddenly right there at the start of something mysterious and scary involving a gun! I definitely want to carry on reading this one!

“Belle was busy in her petite, cramped cottage, hustling and bustling, tidying old, rusty cogs from her father’s work table. Grabbing her satchel from the corner of the kitchen chair, she looked in the mirror and perfected her hair.

Belle took a deep breath and opened her cottage door. ‘Goodbye, Father,’ she called out.

‘Have a lovely day,’ came a small, mumbily reply.”

By Ella Barratt

Ally’s comment: At the start of this opening, we get a really strong sense of the heroine, Belle, thanks to Ella’s great description of her. She’s a busy girl who likes things to be tidy – including her own appearance. But, the rusty cogs and the voice of her father suggest there’s more to her life than meets the eye. Intriguing! And I love Ella’s use of the the word ‘mumbily’ too …

Well done to Hadley, Ethan and Ella. Three more great story openings. And well done to everyone else in Willow Class too. I really enjoyed reading your work and it was very difficult to choose whose to post up here.  I hope you have all carried on writing the rest of your stories – or if not these, then other ones. Great openings are important, but writers need to be able to do middles and endings too!

Book Champions – part 2 – Maple Class

Here’s my selection of story beginnings from pupils in Maple Class

Book Champions Writing comp Nov 17 Maple Class

Murder in the night

“One dark night in High Park town there was a bang at the door. I yelled for help. Nobody could hear me. My mum was out clubbing and my dad was working. I’m 13 years old and I’m home alone. What shall I do? Answer it? Ignore it? Tell me, please. I’m worried. I’m scared. There was a bang. It hasn’t stopped …”

By Sienna

Ally’s comment: This is a lovely tense opening. Using short sentences peppered with questions really creates a sense of the heroine’s fear. You can almost feel your heart racing in time to the words – well done, Sienna!


“For years we were a gang of two, me and Joey. Always hanging out laughing, but now we are a gang of four. Paul and Kit have joined and there’s no way out of it. Every now and then I wonder whether I’m really turning invisible to Joey. All she’s interested in is Kit. Kit is my brother and ever since Paul (Joey’s foster brother) has moved in, things have become even more complicated.”

By Skye Fordham

Ally’s comment: I love the way Skye creates a sense of threat in this opening paragraph by telling us that things used to be good, but now – because Paul and Kit have joined their gang – they aren’t any more. You can tell already that bad things are about to happen – and it definitely makes you want to read on. Great work, Skye!

“Hello. I’m Sam. I have leukaemia and I’m ten years old. My friend, Felix has leukaemia too. We always go to one of our houses. I am a little boy that wants to do a book of miracles, but my friend Felix doesn’t believe in miracles so he won’t be interested in my book.”

By Carlota

Ally’s comment: I recognise this as an alternative version to the opening to ‘Ways to live forever’ by Sally Nicholls – a lovely story about a boy suffering from cancer who wants to know as much about the world – and about dying too – as he faces up to having to die himself. Carlota has done a lovely job of summarising Sam’s problem (that he’s sick), what he’d like to do (write a book of miracles) and his relationship with his friend, Felix, all in a very short paragraph. A great way to start a story and get readers interested enough to want to read on …

Well done to Sienna, Sky and Carlota for these three lovely openings.  And well done too, to all the pupils of Maple Class. It was really tough choosing these entries from everyone’s work.  Look out for a final selection from Willow Class very soon!

Cordwalles Book Champions get published! Part 1 – Pine Class

I promised after my first visit back in November, and the Book Champions workshop that Years 5 and 6 took part in, that I would choose a selection of work from pupils and publish it here on the Cordwalles Patron of Reading page of my website.

First up, I have an apology to make as it took me much longer than I thought to judge all the entries and to make my choices. This is because I have been super-busy finishing writing my second book: The Buried Crown – which is due for publication in April this year. And of course, Christmas came along too which meant presents to buy and wrap and other arrangements to be made. So I must say a very big SORRY to everyone and to thank you for being so patient!Book Champions Writing comp Nov 17 Pine Class

The good news is that I have just sent the final amendments on my new book back to my publishers at Chicken House Books and so I have now had a chance to take a proper look at everyone’s work.

I’ve decided the best way to share the work is to publish it class by class over the next few days. So, here are my top three choices from Pine Class. They are in no particular order, but were the ones I felt did a really excellent job of producing a new beginning for their favourite book, or alternatively, coming up with an exciting beginning for a story of their own.  It was a very tough decision to have to make as everyone’s work was so good – so please don’t be disappointed if I didn’t choose your work this time around. And look out for the Maple Class selections coming soon!

The Birthday Month

“It was the night of Ally’s birthday. Wolves were howling in the distance. This night the moon was at its highest. It felt like I could touch it. It felt so close.

Suddenly I turned round. There were a pair of eyes staring straight at me. Ally started to walk towards it …”

By Alexis Keay

Ally’s comment: I loved the sense of mystery in this opening, particularly the mention of the wolves which gave me a shiver down my spine. I also loved the way Alexis described the moon as being so close you could almost touch it. I definitely want to read on!


” ‘It’s dark’ said Savanah. ‘Where am I? Ow!’ She could hear what she said echoing around the dark place. Savanah couldn’t remember anything at all but suddenly someone said: ‘Hello.’

Savanah started. ‘H-h-hello. Who is it?’

The mysterious figure said: ‘Who wants to know?’ Then something grabbed Savanah’s arm.

‘Ahh!’ she screamed. She got up once again to run, but she banged her head and fell right back down again. Next time she woke up, she was on the floor in a mysterious room …”

By Maggie Galpin

Ally’s comment: I think Maggie did a great job of getting across how confused and frightened her heroine, Savanah, was at the start of this story. And the sudden appearance of the mysterious figure was also very spine-chilling. Who are they and what do they want? Don’t you want to read on too?

P.S. Maggie has now written another spine-tingler of a chapter to her story which I’ve posted below – great work, Maggie!

“Help – Chapter Two

When Savanah woke up in the mysterious room, she had a banging headache. She sat up and saw the head of a man. She couldn’t see his face, just the back of his head. Suddenly he said: ‘I’ve been waiting’ and he turned around from his leather chair. Savanah was scared out of her life when he turned around. She recognised him for some reason. But why did he have a big scar down his face? What happened? Savanah thought.

Then the man spoke sternly. ‘Why are you here?’

Savanah said: ‘I-I-I don’t know.’

The man shouted: ‘Answer me!’ then he added, ‘You don’t want anything to hurt you and your family, do you?’ The next thing Savanah knew, she had blacked out …

“The moon is glowing like never before. Our family is small and so is the house and there’s not many things to do. Every night, I hear the same thing. BANG! BANG! I can hardly sleep. I think this house is haunted.

‘WAKE UP!’ said my little sister, Alice. ‘I HAD A NIGHTMARE!’ she said.

I had no idea what was going on. Last night she said she heard a little girl asking for help. So I said ‘Was it that girl?’

She said yes …”

By Kennedy

Ally’s comment: A great scary-sounding start from Kennedy (I hope that’s your first name?), with the moon glowing and spooky noises plus a little sister who is complaining of having nightmares. I’m feeling scared and wanting to know more already!

Well done to Alexis, Maggie, Kennedy and the whole of Pine Class! I really enjoyed reading all your work and am looking forward to seeing more on future visits!

My first visit: Remember, remember the tenth of November

I paid my first visit to the school on 10 November and had a brilliant time meeting everyone and spreading a little bit of Black Powder fun.

Cordwalles Assembly 1

Pleased to meet you!

The first event was a school assembly where I got the chance to meet the whole school and tell everyone a little bit about myself and how I became a writer. One of the secrets I shared was that I struggled a bit with reading when I first went to school and had to have some extra help.

I also shared some of the favourite books I enjoyed reading when I was at junior school, including the fantastic Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively.



If you want to find out more about me, why not take a look here.

I also told everyone a bit more about how I came to write my first published book, Black Powder and how it was inspired by the most famous plot in British history: The Gunpowder Plot. There’s more about the Gunpowder Plot in the factsheets here.

Cordwalles Assembly 2

As spies are very important in Black Powder, we finished off with a fun exercise on how to build your own spy. The mission we set our spy was to try and kidnap a member of the Cordwalles Pupil Parliament and everyone then thought about what sort of disguise the spy might need to dress in and what sort of special skills and gadgets they might need to accomplish their mission.

The children also asked a whole heap of brilliant questions at the end.

Book champions

I had great fun meeting the members of Chestnut, Maple, Pine and Willow Class during some special workshops where I threw down the challenge for everyone to become the champion for their own favourite book.

Everyone did a great job to try and persuade their neighbours why they should try reading their chosen book before some children took on the extra challenge of trying to persuade the whole class. We then had a vote to see which book people wanted me to read the first chapter from.

Cordwalles Book Signing 1

Some of the books we read from during the sessions were: Ruby Redfort by Lauren Child, The Worst Thing About My Sister by Jacqueline Wilson, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher, Compton Valance: The Time Travelling Sandwich Bites Back by former Cordwalles Patron of Reading, Matt Brown, Gym Stars by Jane Lawes and Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

The children then had a go at writing a different beginning to their favourite books or the opening paragraph to their own stories.

Book Doctors

I also got the chance to meet with the Cordwalles Book Ambassadors in the amazing forest-themed school library, complete with its own toadstool tables and water feature.

Cordwalles Book Doctors 1

During these sessions, everyone took it in turns to tell me about the sort of books they liked reading and I then prescribed them a new book I thought they might enjoy. In my role as a Book Doctor, I am very keen to try and get people to read books they might not have thought about before – and to try different authors too – so they don’t fall ill from the dreaded disease of ‘Same-itis’.

The Book Ambassadors should now be hard at work prescribing books to everyone back in their classes. I am already looking forward to hearing how that’s been going on my next visit for World Book Week in March next year!

Coming soon!

I will be putting up extracts from some of the book openings we worked on during the Book Champions session …